Embodying the Largest Slave Revolt in American History

Slave Rebellion Reenactment (SSR) is a large-scale, community-engaged art performance and film production reimagining the largest rebellion of enslaved people in the United States. Set along the River Parishes in Louisiana, this 26-mile roving performance will travel from LaPlace to Kenner, retracing the route of the historic 1811 slave uprising, and concluding in New Orleans at Congo Square on November 8-9, 2019.

SRR will animate a suppressed history of people, who had an audacious plan to organize among other enslaved people to, take up arms and seize the Territory of Orleans in the early 19th-century, They fought not just for their own emancipation, but to end the institution of slavery. SRR is an art and social history project about freedom.

The Reenactment will take place upriver from New Orleans in the locations where the German Uprising, or what is commonly referred to as the 1811 Slave Revolt, occurred. This performance project will involve hundreds of reenactors in Antebellum-style clothing walking for two days, covering a 26-mile stretch along Louisiana’s historic River Road--an area once lined with approximately 350 plantations ranging from simple farmhouses to grand mansions before the American Civil War. The exurban communities and oil and gas industries that have replaced theses cotton, sugar cane, and rice plantations will be its backdrop. The Reenactment will be an impressive and startling sight—500+ Black people, many on horses, armed with machetes and muskets, flags flying, in 19th-century styled garments worn by enslaved people, singing in Creole to African drumming.

There was limited fighting during the 1811 rebellion, so, in contrast to many war reenactments, much of SRR will be a procession, with only occasional skirmishes. The procession will be jarringly out of place as they advance past neighborhoods, strip malls, and oil refineries. This historic anomaly will form a cognitive dissonance for viewers, opening space for people to rethink long- held assumptions and engage the intentional erasure of a history of Black resistance freedom.

A key element of slave revolts was the organizing of the uprising by small groups of trusted individuals, clandestinely plotting with others in small cells. Mirroring this structure, SRR will initiate recruitment and organizing meetings of multiple small groupings of people to prepare for the reenacted uprising. Extending the artwork’s performative reenactment of history, the meetings will take the form of conversations about why people choose to participate, about others they might involve, and why this history is important in contemporary society. The self-organization of the slave rebel reenactors is an essential part of the artwork.

Charles Deslondes, Gilbert, Quamana, Etienne, Jeesamine, and Marie Lawee–some of the leaders of the 1811 uprising–alongside the many enslaved people who were part of the revolt are unsung heroes: their vision, if known about more widely, would inspire many. Their rebellion is a profound “what if?” story. It had a small but real chance of succeeding— what would that have meant for U.S. and world history? Understanding that the past was not predetermined opens the ability for people to dream “what if?” for the future. We hope that this Project helps people of all races broaden their vision of what is possible.

SRR builds on Dread Scott’s performance, Dread Scott: Decision (2012) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Where Dread Scott: Decision looked at American democracy’s foundation in slavery, SRR shifts focus from the roots of America to the strivings of people fighting to be free of those roots. An army from the past, forged of descendants of enslaved Africans, will collide with the present and the reverberations will be felt by audiences and reenactors alike.

The Reenactment will conclude in Congo Square, (a location instrumental for preserving African culture in America,) with a celebration— transforming the violent suppression of the freedom fighters into a celebration of their achievement. Slave Rebellion Reenactment will continue the original rebels’ vision of emancipation that is embodied throughout the performance and will open the possibility for participants and audience members to imagine freedom.

To engage a variety of audiences, the project will have multiple identities: the Reenactment itself, a multichannel video installation of documentation from the event, recruitment meetings, installations, and documentary photos.

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About the Organizers

Dread Scott

Dread Scott

Lead Artist: Performance

Dread Scott makes revolutionary art to propel history forward. In 1989, the entire US Senate denounced…

John Akomfrah

John Akomfrah

Lead Artist: Film

Renowned Ghanaian-British artist, filmmaker, and writer John Akomfrah will collaborate with Dread Scott on Slave…

Shana M. griffin

Shana M. griffin

Assistant Producer

Shana M. griffin is a feminist activist, independent researcher, applied sociologist, and artist. Her practice…

Karen-Kaia Livers

Karen-Kaia Livers

Community Outreach

Kaia is a veteran organizer and native New Orleanian. She is involved with many non-profit…

Dorthy Ray

Dorthy Ray

Coordinator

Dorthy Ray is a Louisiana native curator, photographer, and mixed media artist— who seeks to…

Alison Parker

Alison Parker

Costume Designer

Alison Parker is founder of ricRACK, a New Orleans based non-profit organization committed to using…

Jennifer Crook

Jennifer Crook

Project Manager

Jennifer Crook is a senior producer with a passion for delivering challenging events in public…

Keep up-to-date with the Slave Rebellion Reenactment Newsletter

Join us for discussions, planning meetings, and sewing circles:

Resources

The story of the 1811 revolt and slave rebellions generally, are powerful stories of liberation with many lessons for the present. If you want to engage that history more fully, below is a list of resources Dread and the SRR team have been drawing on in the process of creating this performance.

  • On to New Orleans, Albert Thrasher—This is the book that presents the first substantial research of the 1811 revolt—years before anyone else. It is published by Leon A. Waters and is available here: hiddenhistory.us/books.
  • Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, Walter Johnson—An important exploration of a slave market, both as a physical location where slaves are sold, but also market, as in stock market.
  • The Confessions of Nat Turner — As told to Thomas R. Gray. Not to be confused with the novel by William Styron. Available as free download here.
  • American Negro Slave Revolts , Herbert Aptheker—The substantive first recounting of slave revolts in the US. Written with the assumption that the slave revolts are just and fighting for emancipation
  • Slavery by Another Name: The Reenslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to WWI I, Douglas Blackmon—more on the legacy of slavery.
  • Fire on the Mountain, Terry Bisson — A cool scifi “what if” set in the future if John Brown and Harriet Tubman launched a successful war to end slavery.
  • Congo Square, African Roots in New Orleans, Freddi WIlliams Evans
  • Fragments of the Peculiar Institution, Dread Scott. An artist book of Scott's research into slavery. Available exclusively on the SRR Kickstarter Campaign here.

Dread has also been looking at how visual artists have approached slave and peasant uprising. In particular:
– Hale Woodruff (Amistad murals)
– Kathe Kollwitz (Peasant War series)
– Jacob Lawrence (Toussaint Louverture)

Slave Revolt in Jamaica 1760-1761, Vincent Brown. In this interactive web project, Brown presents an animated thematic map that narrates the spatial history of the greatest slave insurrection in the eighteenth century British Empire. It gives a complex view of the dynamics and fighting strategy of revolts.

Burn (Queimada). 1969 Italian & French film directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and starring Marlon Brando and Evaristo Márquez. The fictional story focuses on the infighting between British and Portuguese colonial powers to occupy an island in the Caribbean. Brando plays a British secret government agent, who manipulates a slave revolt to serve the interests of the British sugar trade. The rebel slaves are the real heroes of the film.

We would also encourage anyone interested to visit New Orleans and take Leon Waters’ Hidden History Tour of the 1811 revolt.

Contact

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Partners & Contributors

Lead Partners
Slave Rebellion Reenactment was conceived and initiated by Dread Scott and is being mounted in partnership with Antenna , a New Orleans multi-arts organization.

Costume development is being led in partnership with RicRack, a New Orleans based sewing focused non-profit.

Outreach efforts are being organized in partnership with Tulane's New Orleans Center for the Gulf South.

Donors
A Blade of Grass Foundation
Art Matters
Nathan Cummings Foundation
Givens Foundation for African American Literature
Gore Family Foundation
Ford Foundation
Harpo Foundation
Joan Mitchell Center
The Kindle Project
MAP Fund
McColl Center for Art + Innovation
New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University
Open Society Foundations
Smack Mellon
VIA Art Fund
Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

And 500+ individual donors through our Kickstarter campaign and other contributions.

Fiscal Sponsors
Antenna is lead fiscal sponsor of Slave Rebellion Reenactment.

Slave Rebellion Reenactment is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization.

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